The Ivy Coach Daily

November 1, 2023

What Happens If You Back Out of Early Decision?

This is a view of Baker Tower at Dartmouth College.
An Early Decision commitment is binding. Binding means binding.

Today marks the Early Decision deadline for applicants to the Class of 2028 at just about every school across America with such an admissions policy. So, what happens if your child wakes up tomorrow, three weeks from now, or even six weeks from now (if they learn they’ve earned admission) and regrets making a binding commitment? Let’s dive in!

What Is Early Decision?

First, let’s define what Early Decision means because such a capricious applicant might need a gentle reminder. Early Decision is a binding policy under which applicants commit in writing to attending the school if offered admission when they apply — typically by November 1st. These decisions are released around mid-December.

A key advantage of applying Early Decision is that students who show their love to a school by making a binding commitment to attend receive preferential treatment in admissions.

For example, at Brown University, for the Class of 2027, 12.98% of Early Decision applicants earned admission compared to 3.88% of Regular Decision applicants. At Dartmouth College, for the Class of 2027, 19.21% of Early Decision applicants earned admission compared to 4.54% of Regular Decision applicants.

How ’Binding’ Is Early Decision Admission?

Can Applicants Withdraw Early Decision Applications?

If a student were to change their mind about committing to that school after submitting their application and before they learn of their decision, they have every right to withdraw their application.

Of course, such a decision — in Ivy Coach’s book — would be rather foolish since they likely applied to a reach school rather than a safety. And it’s not like they can then apply to another school in the Early Decision I round (while some schools have Early Decision II rounds, the advantage of applying ED II is not nearly as strong as ED I, and applications are typically due on or around January 1st).

Yet while students can withdraw their applications before they learn of their Early Decision admission results around mid-December, thereafter, they cannot renege on their commitment unless their family’s financial circumstances have significantly — and demonstrably — changed since the time they applied. Just about every Early Decision commitment contains explicit language that lays out the rules and the one exception to breaking the commitment.

Can Early Decision Applicants Apply to Other Colleges?

In addition to applying Early Decision to their school of choice, Early Decision applicants are allowed to apply to any public university in America through non-binding Early Action policies.

In addition, many schools with Early Decision policies allow students to apply Early Action to private universities so long as such Early Action policies are not restrictive (e.g., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago are private universities with non-restrictive Early Action policies).

That said, if the student earns admission to their Early Decision school, they cannot attend any school that offered them Early Action admission, and if they haven’t yet learned of their decisions from their Early Action schools, the right thing to do would be to withdraw those applications.

Can Early Decision Admits Apply to Other Colleges After Admission?

With the exception of the rare student who successfully wiggles out of their Early Decision commitment because their family’s financial circumstances have demonstrably changed, students admitted under a school’s Early Decision policy may not apply to other schools after learning of their admission.

Such a move would be at their great peril and effectively get them blacklisted at all of these schools. Not only would their Early Decision offer be in jeopardy, but so too would their cases for admission to every other college in America since they’ve all got each other’s backs on this issue.

Backing Out of an Early Decision Commitment: Reasons & Consequences

What Are Acceptable Reasons to Renege on An Early Decision Commitment?

The only acceptable reason to attempt to renege on an Early Decision commitment is that your family’s financial circumstances have significantly — and demonstrably — changed since your child applied.

These schools weren’t born yesterday. Your child isn’t the first child to have Early Decision remorse. If every teenager could renegotiate their Early Decision commitment based on how they feel one day as opposed to the next, the college admissions process would become the Wild West.

What Are the Consequences of Reneging on An Early Decision Commitment?

Not only will an applicant forfeit their admission to their Early Decision school, but they would place their candidacy in peril at every college they apply to thereafter because these schools share lists. Just as Hollywood blacklisted actors, writers, and producers in the days of the Red Scare, colleges can very well blacklist a college applicant who doesn’t keep their word. After all, if they don’t keep their word to one school, who’s to say they’ll keep their word when they commit to another school by May 1st?

And as to the argument that Early Decision commitments aren’t legally binding, who cares? Legally binding or not, your child is going to face significant repercussions in the admissions process by reneging on their commitment.

A Word of Advice on Early Decision Commitments from Ivy Coach

In summary, if you’re thinking of reneging on a binding Early Decision commitment after you’ve earned admission, think again. A few years ago, we had a student who applied Early Decision to Columbia University and Early Action to MIT. We informed her of the risk — that she would not be able to attend MIT if she got into Columbia well in advance of the November 1st deadline. And we told her she had a realistic shot of earning admission to both schools with Ivy Coach’s assistance.

As it turned out, our student got into both Columbia and MIT and immediately wished to renege on her ED commitment to Columbia even though her family’s financial circumstances had not changed. So when she sent us a longwinded email in which she brainstormed ways to get out of her Columbia commitment to attend MIT, we responded with the plain language of her Early Decision commitment to Columbia. She understood, thanked us — and attended Columbia.

The lesson? Students must honor their commitments. While students have the right to withdraw Early Decision applications before they learn of their decisions, doing so is highly unusual and not recommended. And as to trying to renege on an Early Decision commitment after a student whose family’s financial circumstances have not changed learns of their admission? Not on our watch!


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